BROOKSVILLE — One thing that station manager Steve Manuel is certain about when it came to Bob Haa, the morning talk show host on WWJB-AM 1450: You never had to guess about his viewpoint on a particular issue.
To those who lean toward the conservative end of the political spectrum, Mr. Haa was a sage, thoughtful voice of reason. But to those on the other side, whom he often labeled as leftists, Marxists and "fruitcakes," he was an indignant smart mouth who would say just about anything to stir the pot.
Manuel, who hired Mr. Haa (pronounced HAY) in 1990 and gave him free rein to run his weekday talk show as he saw fit, said he never regretted the decision.
"In my opinion, Bob was the best at what he did," Manuel said Tuesday. "He had a passion for it and an edge that could stimulate callers and feedback. And that's what you want to have in this business."
The 65-year-old host of WWJB's Haa-Wire program died Monday at Brooksville Regional Hospital, where he was admitted Saturday. Manuel, who was out of town over the weekend, said he didn't know the exact cause of death, but believed it was related to cardiac and respiratory health issues that kept Mr. Haa off the air for several weeks last year.
On Tuesday morning, callers to the station sang Mr. Haa's praises and remembered him as a man who stood up for his beliefs and played watchdog to their interests, especially when it came to local government.
"He was like a big brother who stood up for you," recalled Doug Davis, a Brooksville resident who called Haa's show frequently. "He got people fired up and believing that they had a valid say in the way things are being run by the people they elected. He didn't like seeing them get away with things."
Mr. Haa railed often on what he considered unfair taxation, Manuel said, and complained about things such as red-light cameras and government programs and services he felt were wasteful and burdensome. However, his approach was not universally appreciated.
Former county Commissioner Jeff Stabins blamed Mr. Haa for helping to create the negative attitude in the county that became pervasive enough to help drive away several county administrators.
"He was a malevolent mouthpiece for malcontents,'' Stabins said Tuesday.
On at least one occasion, Mr. Haa's views stretched the boundaries of the First Amendment. In 2009, he was visited at the station by a Secret Service agent investigating a conversation he had with a caller who mentioned ammunition, target practice and President Barack Obama. The host dismissed the investigation as a "waste of time" and thanked his listeners for supporting him.
Mr. Haa arrived in Brooksville in 1983, at a time when WWJB was playing mostly country music. He wanted to do talk radio, which was just breaking out of a mundane discussion-oriented format and into a more topically driven direction. His passion for devouring news and editorial content from newspapers and television provided plenty of fodder.
"He was always well prepared when he came in to do the show," Manuel said. "If you were going to challenge him, you needed to have your facts straight."
Off air, Mr. Haa was someone who avoided the limelight, Manuel said. He preferred spending time with his wife, Andi, playing golf and watching sports.
Funeral arrangements for Mr, Haa are being handled by Brewer and Sons Funeral Home.
Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.